Skip to main content

Interoperability and Portability in the Wild

Lessons from the Data Sharing Practitioners Workshop

Gabriel Nicholas

This paper distills lessons from a two-day workshop where technologists who build products that help people find new uses for their data came together to discuss the technical barriers their users face in transferring data between services.

Part of what makes the tech sector so vibrant is how easy computers make it to move data from one place to another. When people have the freedom to move the data they have produced and uploaded, they can use that mobility to try new services, potentially improving competition and innovation in the tech sector as a whole.

Today, there is a whole ecosystem of companies that lets consumers bring their data (e.g. health records, energy bills, tractors) and use it for new purposes (e.g. getting better care for a rare disease, switching to renewable energy, improving yield.)

However, the big companies that hold onto this data are often not interested in making it easy for customers to transfer data elsewhere, even when required to by regulators. Some of these reasons are in the consumer's best interest — shared data can be misused for shady purposes or stored in a way that is easily accessible to hackers. Others are not — exclusive control over a consumer's data is often a competitive advantage and lets companies withhold its innovative potential for themselves.

The Data Practitioners Workshop brought together technologists from six different sectors to discuss the technical barriers that big data-holding companies erect in order to make it more difficult for consumers to move data. The practitioners came from six different industries — healthcare, finance, energy, agriculture, automotive, and medical devices. This workshop paper highlights the surprising overlap in the issues they face and discusses the kinds of regulatory and technical interventions they seek in order to improve their situation.